ESNchat-smallOne of the most satisfying things I’ve done professionally in recent years is to start the weekly Twitter chat #ESNchat in September 2013, to see it grow through the 13 months I hosted it, and now to see it have new life and new leadership going forward through The Community Roundtable (@TheCR). After sensing a void in the world of enterprise social networking in the summer of 2013, I started the chat to provide a regular, free, vendor-neutral place where practitioners and enthusiasts involved with businesses’ internal social networks could share insights and help develop the field of enterprise social.

My friends at TheCR were receptive to the idea of them becoming the leaders for the chat when I approached them in August 2014. They kindly agreed to take on the challenge and as of October 2 they have been the very capable facilitators of the chat. Now that a little time has passed since the transition, I’ve had time to ponder the journey of that 13 months. I’ll share a few simple reflections on the experience here.

I recall the first chat on September 12, 2013. I had secured the domain name and the Twitter persona, discussed it with a number of people in the field, and started promoting it as best I knew how (which wasn’t very well in hindsight). I recall how nervous I was before that first chat wondering if anyone would show up. Had I done all this planning in vain? Was it going to be a giant failure that embarrassed me publicly? I was jittery as the hour approached from the uncertainty of it all.

Thankfully, people showed up (phew – that was a relief)! We had a great discussion and the chat was immediately an important part of my week and an opportunity to try to move the needle of enterprise social networking forward in some small way.

While the subject of enterprise social networking is near and dear to my heart as the community manager for Humana’s ESN, this effort was never under the auspices of my work. It was just Jeff’s little effort for good or bad, for success or failure. I never counted a single hour of the time devoted to #ESNchat as time working for Humana. That makes it all the more satisfying now that over a year later we typically have about 40 participants, hundreds of tweets, and excellent conversation every week.

I am thankful for the 225 participants we had over that first 13 months and I enjoy seeing new faces every week in the chat. I am thankful for the great archive of topics we have accumulated over time and continue to build under TheCR’s leadership.

There were a couple of surprises and disappointments along the way. For example, I woefully underestimated the amount of time per week it took to host a one-hour Twitter chat. I didn’t track the time in detail, but my best guess is that it took on average about an hour a day seven days a week due to the planning, archiving, promoting, and notifying participants of updates. That was a bit more than I bargained for, but it was time well spent.

The only real disappointment I experienced in the 13 months hosting is totally my own doing in that I did not bring to fruition the ESN Handbook I envisioned as a collaborative effort among participants. Given the existing commitment of time just to pull off the chat (along with other work and volunteer activities), I couldn’t get the handbook done. There’s a collaborative ESN Handbook eBook/website out there just waiting to be created and annually updated for some entrepreneurial group (hint, hint).

Now that I’m a regular participant in the chat with no leadership responsibilities, I get to experience weekly what those 225+ others have experienced rather than frantically trying to host the chats and simultaneously take part in the conversation. Frankly, it’s a bit more fun now for me and a lot less stressful.

One of my key lessons learned for 2013 was to take risks. When I wrote about that end-of-year lesson, I had #ESNchat in mind. It would have been easy to bemoan the absence of such a free, public forum for ESN practitioners. It would have been easy to think someone else should do it. It isn’t easy for introverts like me (yes, I’m an introvert) to put myself out there so publicly and try to start something that could go down in flames quickly. But I gave it my best shot and with the regular participation of many talented, knowledgeable professionals whom I have come to know and respect, we succeeded.

Now when I sit back for a moment in chats led by TheCR, when I see new faces introduce themselves, when I read the kudos from participants who benefit from the chats, and when I develop new professional relationships with fellow ESN enthusiasts, I smile a quiet but very satisfying smile like a proud papa watching his child grow up and go out into the world on his own.

Chats only succeed when there are multiple people chatting. I may have started it, but only through others’ involvement has it continued, and I am grateful for each participant. I look forward to seeing where it goes from here. Where will it be in one year? Two Years? What innovations will TheCR introduce (such as the #ESNchat Mini-Decks they’ve already introduced)? What actions will come from the chats? What takeaways will be implemented in businesses of all shapes and sizes that make a positive difference in those organizations’ internal communications and social collaboration?

There is no way of knowing the answer to those questions, but I am quietly confident that such applications will be made and the impact will be significant over time.

Thanks to all who joined me in the venture. Continue to join me and so many others weekly on Thursday afternoons at 2pm Eastern time as TheCR leads us into the next phase of ESNchat. The future is bright!

PastorAppreciationMonthThis is Pastor Appreciation Month. Pastors should be appreciated every month of the year for the important, tireless, and unending work they do, but it’s still good to set aside a particular month to show our appreciation.

So let me take this opportunity to publicly thank my pastor, Mark Williams, and my associate pastor, Kris Billiter, for who they are, for all they do for so many people, and for the very positive impact each has on me, my family, and my church.

Mark has only been my pastor since mid-August 2014, but I cannot express how thrilled I am to have him and his great family at my church – Walnut Street Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Mark is gifted in many ways, but what stands out to me is the powerful preaching that God brings to pass through him every week. I recently heard Mark say that 90% of his time weekly is spent on sermon preparation, and it shows. I appreciate that passion for and devotion to the Word of God. A very high view of scripture is sadly lacking in many churches today, and it thrills my soul to know that Mark understands the centrality of the Word of God in his mission as pastor.

Mark has a great family as well with a wonderful wife and two precious children. It is clear that the family is fully devoted to one another as they serve Christ and others. I look forward to many years together as a faithful servant in the church.

It pleases me that Mark is as young as he is – 31 years old – because it increases my hope in the future of our church and the rock-solid grip God can have on people of all ages who willingly surrender their lives to His lordship. With my sons’ ages 31 and 34, my manager at my work being 31, managing a small team at work of others in their 20s, and having loved my college ministry years hanging out with those much younger than me, I have an affinity for a younger generation and am excited to see them lead others of all ages.

It has also been a tremendous blessing this past year and a half just prior to Mark being called as pastor to have our associate pastor Kris Billiter serve as interim pastor while we went through the long pastor search process. Kris is about to leave us to plant a new church elsewhere in the county, so we will be sad to see him go, but he goes with our blessing and heartfelt gratitude for the phenomenal way he led us in the interim period (and in other capacities for years before). I count him as a trusted friend and I know he will be used by God for great service now and in the years ahead. I would have been glad to have Kris as my pastor should that have come to pass, but God had other plans that we all now see as better for all concerned.

I was never a pastor, but I have served as associate pastor, minister of education, youth minister and college minister in a variety of paid ministry and volunteer roles. I can’t completely understand the thoughts and daily concerns of a lead pastor since I haven’t been one, but I can well imagine the joys and the difficulties of the role as one deals with fickle human beings (like me) while trying to be a faithful servant of the Most High God.

Through the years I haven’t always been the exemplary church member and am surely not now either. I had some adversarial times with a previous pastor – a dark and difficult period for my wife and me that is thankfully in the past. I don’t ever want a repeat of those days. The pattern of my life is to respect the person and the position of pastor and that is the way it should be.

So as I ponder ways I can continue to show appreciation to my pastor, here are some things that come to mind:

  • Pray by name daily for my pastor, his ministry, and his family.
  • Be an eager, active and vocal supporter of his ministry.
  • Make my default answer to requests he may make of me be “yes” unless there are extremely unusual circumstances that prevent doing so in particular situations.
  • Be reasonable in my expectations of him as a person; He’s not superman.
  • Respect his time and the time he needs with family as well as down time to get away and recharge.
  • Serve tirelessly in ways God has gifted me for the good of our church.
  • If I disagree with a leadership decision, either accept the authority of the position of pastor (barring clearly unbiblical decisions) or at least have the respect to first approach him privately with concerns rather than publicly.
  • Seek to give more than I take in the relationship.
  • Trust that in God’s sovereignty He has plans I know nothing about, and this pastor at this time in this place is a part of that eternal plan.

I’d love to hear what other ideas you may have.

To my fellow believers everywhere, I encourage you to go out of your way this month (and every month) to show appreciation to your pastor. Let him know you’re praying for him. Be kind. Say words of encouragement. Be a blessing to him and a helper in your shared ministry at church. Love him and those dear to him as though they are a part of your own family because they are. They are a part of a spiritual family that will spend eternity together. We would do well to work hard this side of heaven on getting a great jumpstart on that forever friendship.

Thank you, Mark, and thank you, Kris, and heartfelt thanks to the many other pastors I’ve had in 57 years on this earth who have all played a part in shaping me into who I am. The ripple effect of your work is incalculable. You are loved and greatly appreciated every day of every year.

May God richly bless you and your loved ones as you continue to faithfully serve Him.

GroupUsingPhonesIs this the least social time in human history?

The question may sound odd coming from one whose daily work centers around social media, but sometimes I wonder if he haven’t taken giant strides backward in recent years in our ability to simply be social with other real live human beings around us. Here are some examples of why I’m concerned…

  • It is nearly impossible to go out to eat with coworkers, family or friends without a majority of the people spending more time looking at their smartphones than actually engaging with and enjoying others sitting at the table with them.
  • How many homes have multiple family members each on some electronic device for long periods of time, but each rarely interacting in person with others under the same roof?
  • How distracted are we by multiple conversations on multiple social platforms to the point of never really giving our full attention to anyone – either face-to-face or online?

I’m a huge fan of social media and technology in general. It has been the focus of my life’s work for years and will be so for the foreseeable future. I’m not suggesting abandoning the technology; that isn’t going to happen, anyway. But somewhere along the line we must recognize that we’re missing out on the face-to-face present when our heads are buried in our phones, tablets or PCs. As an introvert, I need and cherish my times of solitude, but when I’m with others, they deserve my full attention.

We’re missing chances at rich conversation and deeper, more meaningful relationships when we don’t get past the depth of 140 characters in what we communicate. We limit our conversations and the wisdom we can glean from others’ experiences when our dependence on technology omits communication with those who don’t use the technology. Our monetary wealth and eagerness to spend it on gadgets contributes to a poverty in relationships due to the lack of investment we make in deeper, face-to-face interaction.

Life is always a balancing act. Living for extended periods on extremes is rarely advisable. If you wonder if the above picture fits you or not, it probably does. That doesn’t mean you run to the other extreme by deactivating your social media accounts or giving up your smartphone. It may mean, however, that you set it aside when in the presence of others to develop that which cannot exist online. It may mean you don’t respond to every notification sound or vibration when in the presence of others, reserving that check for when you leave their company.

Be here. Be present. Respect those you are physically with and give them your full attention. Let’s not let a wave of social media opportunities actually turn us into a less social generation. We can and should do better than that.

Time to Take #ESNchat to the Next Level!

Posted: September 24, 2014 in #ESNchat
Tags: ,

ESNchat-smallI’m very pleased to announce that as of Thursday, October 2, 2014 the good people at The Community Roundtable will take over ownership of my weekly Twitter chat #ESNchat. Some of the great benefits to the #ESNchat community will include the ability for @TheCR to have multiple people involved with leadership of the chat, more extensive promotional efforts behind it than I personally have been able to provide, expertise from years of research and organizing conversations between community practitioners, and a much broader network of practitioners and enthusiasts than I bring to the table, while still maintaining the ESN vendor-neutral position that has been so important to the success of #ESNchat. We got a taste last week in my absence of how well TheCR’s Hillary Boucher can host a chat, so we will all benefit from more of Hillary’s leadership along with others from TheCR.

This has been a great journey for me that began in the summer of 2013 when I started searching for a free online gathering place for Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) practitioners, vendors and enthusiasts. While there were some closed communities provided for those who use specific vendors, I wanted more than that in order to help nudge the industry forward. There needed to be a place where anyone using any platform could meet with others and discuss specific ESN topics of interest, learning from each other and building up a repository of content that could help many others along the way. Therefore, #ESNchat was born September 12, 2013.

Since its inception we’ve had about 230 wonderful people take part in the chats, currently averaging about 30-40 participants per week sharing hundreds of tweets each chat. Each week sees us adding a few new people. Some participants on the other side of the globe even ended up spawning a new chat of their own at a time more convenient to them. I’ve met an incredible network of people from whom I have learned much and will continue to learn from in the years ahead.

But I’m just one person who has been doing this in his free time outside of work and all my other volunteer activities. It may not seem like much of a time commitment to host a one-hour chat weekly, but there is a lot more that goes into it than meets the eye with planning topics, securing featured guests, archiving chats, sending reminders out about coming chats and posted archives, other ongoing promotional efforts, plus the other residual impact of requests for interviews, consulting, speaking engagements, etc. – all of which I love, of course, but which tends to cut into time which should usually be devoted to other things. I never got around, for example, to working with chat participants to co-author an ESN Handbook we discussed earlier in the year due to sheer limitation of time for more #ESNchat work than I was already doing.

Additionally, my role at work has recently expanded to not just be the community manager for our ESN, but to lead a small team of community managers who also have responsibility for our external social media, plus I’m now working with internal lines of business to consult with them as they stand up external online communities for their focused audiences. My work focus, therefore, is shifting more to community management for internal and external communities as well as launching new external-facing communities while still continuing to manage our ESN. As such, I don’t feel like it’s appropriate for me to devote so many hours per week purely to leading #ESNchat when ESNs are no longer my sole focus at work.

Since TheCR will be able to share the load of all that needs to be done among multiple people, I feel better about their ownership of it going forward. That’s why I approached them with the idea last month. I’ve been a member of TheCR for years and am continually impressed with the quality of their people and all they do. While they, of course, have paid membership (which I recommend) for those who want those benefits, #ESNchat participation will remain freely available to all as any Twitter chat should be.

Here’s what to expect over the next couple of weeks:

  • I’ll still host the chat on September 25 as I usually do. The topic will be Favorite ESN Resources.
  • Hillary Boucher and others from TheCR will co-host with me the chat on October 2 as we take a look back at what has transpired in #ESNchat to date and consider where we all want it to go in the future.
  • My final role as host will be at the end of the October 2 chat, after which TheCR will immediately assume ownership.
  • We will communicate with participants as soon as we can about the location of resources like chat archives and any website information about the chat. Related to that, I’ll be transferring ownership of the esnchat.com domain for them to use as they see fit. It currently points to a section of my blog, but that will change soon.
  • I have no plans to remove the existing chat archive links from my blog or to change the availability of the Storify archives from my account there, although I will not continue to personally archive future chats after the handoff to TheCR. They will assume that task as they see fit.
  • I want to create an ebook PDF compilation of all the chat archives from September 12, 2013 through October 2, 2014 that I will make freely available to all once it is complete. That will be a nice way to package up and give away my gift of a year’s ESN content to this wonderful community.

I cannot thank enough those of you who have come into my life over the past year as a result of #ESNchat. I started the chat solely to try to nudge the industry forward and I think in a small way we’re doing exactly that. I’m grateful for the speaking and other opportunities my role in the endeavor has provided, but those, too, take time that I ought to be devoting elsewhere. The journey has been amazing.

I’m not going away, though! I’ll still be a regular participant as a practitioner and… well… a proud papa can’t just walk away from his baby! So thank you to my faithful #ESNchat friends for making every Thursday from 2-3pm EDT one of my favorite hours of each and every week. Continue with me as active participants in what I know will be a great second year for #ESNchat under new leadership. Let’s all do what we can to keep moving the needle in the right direction so that enterprise social networking grows and makes the significant business impact for our companies and organizations that we all know is possible with this great form of communication.

You can read TheCR’s post about this development here. Onward and upward!

Top 10 ListI periodically update the Top 10 Posts list on this blog. It’s interesting to see what clicks with people and what seems to develop a life of its own without any promotional efforts behind it. Here is the list of the 10 most-viewed blog posts out of the 600+ I’ve published over the past 3.5 years in order of the most viewed:

1. My First Week With a Fitbit Flex - This was published a year ago and consistently has received more views monthly than any other for a long while. I was approached about placing advertising on the page because of the hits, but I don’t want ads on my blog, so I turned it down. I still wear the Flex faithfully. Doing so has transformed my daily activity, nutrition and sleep monitoring.

2. Throw a Plate On the Ground – This is a short, simple post about the lasting impact of hurting others.

3. The Worst Mistakes I’ve Made As An Employee – People always like to read about the faults of others. Perhaps some can learn from what I’ve done poorly.

4. What I Appreciate Most in Coworkers – It’s nice to find good in others and call it out. I’ve had some wonderful people to enjoy working with through the years and I appreciate them so much.

5. When Does Busy Become Too Busy? – I hope someday to actually learn this lesson that I keep preaching about.

6. Trust – This is an oldie from 2011. It’s hard to believe it still gets views. Trust is always relevant, though.

7. Lessons From My First Daddy-Doggie Date Day – The relationship I have with my dog, Callie, is different than I’ve ever had with a dog in 57 years of living. Every day is special with her, but this was a day set aside especially for her.

8. Book Review: “I Am a Church member” by Thom Rainer – Thom Rainer was a seminary colleague of mine at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the 1980s. My wife typed up his PhD dissertation on our original 30-pound IBM “Portable” PC. He is now president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources and does amazing work. This is a great little book that serves as a good reminder to church members about what we are (and are not) to be about as church members.

9. Deciding When to Leave Your Job – A few things that guide my thoughts during times of significant work transition.

10. Rethink Routine – This is one of five corporate values espoused by my employer – a very worthy value for corporations and individuals.

Many thanks to all the readers of this blog. I love hearing your comments and encourage you to add them to any and all posts of interest. Thanks for letting me share my personal and professional life with you in this way.